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Delhiwale: Nader Shah’s vantage point

Public interest: Sunehri Masjid, from where the invader watched the massacre of Delhi, is now an oasis of peace

delhi Updated: Jul 10, 2017 15:15 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
If Nader Shah was to stand in the mosque today, he would watch the never-ending throng at Chandni Chowk, comprising beggars, pilgrims, shoppers, chaat wallas and tourists.
If Nader Shah was to stand in the mosque today, he would watch the never-ending throng at Chandni Chowk, comprising beggars, pilgrims, shoppers, chaat wallas and tourists.(Mayank Austen Soofi )

It was from Sunehri Masjid that the Persian invader Nader Shah watched the massacre of Delhi in March, 1739.

If Nader Shah was to stand in the mosque today, he would watch the never-ending throng at Chandni Chowk, comprising beggars, pilgrims, shoppers, chaat wallas and tourists.

Every Delhi guidebook recommends a walk in Chandni Chowk, a shopping street conceived by Shahjahan’s daughter Jahanara. At the end of the walk, scholarly travellers, the kind who come to Chandni Chowk to sketch the pattern of a haveli or to study the British influence on Mughal architecture, might remember nothing but the bazaar’s pushy hawkers, made-in-China goods, ‘the old and famous jalebiwalla’, and perhaps the golden arches of a burger outlet. It is possible to miss stately sights such as the Central Baptist Church, one of the oldest churches in north India. And it is almost impossible to spot Sunehri Masjid.

Facing the busy thoroughfare of Bhai Mati Das Chowk, the mosque is barely visible from the street. Its signature domes are overshadowed by the surrounding buildings. It is lesser known than Fatehpuri Masjid, the mosque at the other end of the Mughal-era bazaar.

Lacking the imposing scale of Delhi’s grand monuments such as the Jama Masjid, Sunehri Masjid has the fleeting beauty of a haiku. The pillars are carved with green floral patterns. The arched doors are painted light grey. The roof is bordered by a carved jaali balustrade. The railing on the courtyard is marked at regular intervals with miniature domes. The three principal domes are of gilded copper, which give the mosque its name. Sunehri is golden in Urdu.

Built in 1722 by Mughal nobleman Roshan-ud-Daulah, the mosque was repaired by Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal, in 1852. In the usually empty mosque, the sounds of Chandni Chowk appear to come from some distant country. Sitting in the courtyard is like being transported into a quiet refuge. This place, like so many monuments in the city, played its part in a significant episode of Delhi’s history, after which it left the stage and retired.